"Never skip leg day!”Is a statement that you regularly see in combination with a photo of a man with a muscular torso but scrawny spindle legs; the epitome of what you as a bodybuilder do not want. Yet many would leg day rather skip it. Training your legs is tough and the days after your leg training you often still have considerable muscle pain. But do you think Tom Platz ever skipped leg day? To create such 'monster legs' it is important that you train the three major muscle groups of your legs: your quads, hamstrings and calves. To help you on your way, in this article we discuss the best hamstring exercises that you as a bodybuilder can do!
Hamstrings… what are they then?
Your hamstrings are located at the back of your thighs and consist of three muscle groups:
- Biceps femoris muscle
- Semimembranosus muscle
- Semitendinosus muscle
The hamstrings are bi-articular muscles, which means that this muscle group runs over two different joints: the hip joint and the knee joint. The hamstrings provide the stretching movement in the hip and the bending movement in the knee. These muscles ensure that your knee can bend and that when your knee is bent you can lift your leg backwards. The semimembranos musculus and the semitendinosus musculus also have endorotation of the knee as a function of turning inwards. The biceps femoris musculus ensures that exorotation, or turning out, of the knee is possible. This is also the only muscle that can bring about this movement.
There are many exercises that are not directly aimed at hamstrings, but where your hamstrings do help, such as deadlifts, lunges and squats. For a good development of your hamstrings, however, it is important to also perform some isolation exercises where you focus on your hamstrings. To help you on your way, we list the most important hamstring exercises and explain how you perform these.
Seated leg curl
The leg curl is basically an exercise in which your upper leg remains quiet and your lower leg is bent. This exercise can be performed in several ways and it is good to alternate between the different variants. The seated leg curl is probably the most famous variant. With this variant the emphasis is mainly on the top of your hamstrings, close to your buttocks. Most gyms have a machine on which you can perform this exercise; therefore, little can go wrong with the execution of this exercise.
When you are going to perform the seated leg curl, it is important that you set up the machine properly. Adjust the backrest so that your knees just overlap the seat when you are sitting with your legs straight and your back straight against the backrest in the machine. This way you can bend your knees well during the exercise and your back remains straight, so that it is not burdened. The pad at the bottom of the machine is between your heels and the bottom of your calves. Often there is still a pad at the top of your legs, which also has handles. You press this down well, so that your thighs are clamped between them. This will help you stay in place during the exercise.
Now that you are completely settled you can start exercising. Inhale and in a concentrated motion bend your knees by pulling your heel towards you. Then stretch your legs again in a gentle, controlled movement. You repeat this until the desired number of reps are done! You can also perform this exercise unilaterally (= with one leg at a time).
Lying leg curl
The name says it all; this is the horizontal version of the leg curl. With this variant you train your buttocks as well as your hamstrings. Some gyms have a special machine for the lying leg curl. Does your gym not have this? No worries! You can also perform this exercise perfectly in a cable station, or even with a dumbbell. So there is no excuse to skip this exercise!
In the lying leg curl machine
When you are on the bench and your legs are in line with the machine, the pads are supposed to be placed back between your heels and the bottom of your calf. Your knees are just off the bench. Grab the handles and now bring your heels towards your buttocks. Bend as far as you can and try to touch your buttocks. Now bring your legs back down in a controlled motion and repeat until the desired number of reps. Make sure that your upper body remains on the bench during the exercise. When your buttocks come up, there is a lot of tension on your lower back instead of your hamstrings. You can also perform this exercise unilaterally for the variation.
With a dumbbell
For this variant of the lying leg curl, you lie on your stomach on a horizontal bench and make sure that your knees are just not resting on the bench. Now you need the help of one of your gym buddies to place a dumbbell between your ankles. Then clamp the dumbbell firmly by pressing your legs together. Hold yourself firmly in front of the bench and make sure your upper body remains flat against the bench during the exercise to avoid tension on your lower back. Now bring your heels as far as possible towards your buttocks in a gentle movement. Then stretch your legs again in a controlled movement. Repeat this until the desired number of reps.
In a cable station
You can also perform this exercise in a cable station. You need a horizontal bench and anklets for this. You can put one ankle strap on both ankles (if possible), or you can put one ankle strap on each ankle, to perform the exercise with two legs at the same time. You can also perform this exercise unilaterally; you attach the ankle strap around one leg and your other leg remains flat on the bench.
Set the cable station's mounting hook to the lowest possible position and position the bench so that your feet are facing the weight. Now attach the ankle strap to your ankle and then to the cable station. Turn around and lie on your stomach on the bench, so that your knees are just not resting on the bench. Now slowly move your heels again as far as possible towards your buttocks, while your upper body remains flat on the bench. When your heels are as close to your butt as possible, slowly bring them back down. You now repeat this movement until the desired number of reps.
Standing leg curl
The last leg curl variant is also the most difficult; the standing leg curl. This variant can also be performed in a specially designed machine, but there are few gyms that have such a machine. You can also perform this exercise in the leg extension machine, which is available at most gyms, or in a cable station. The version in the special standing leg curl machine or the leg extension machine is almost the same, the difference is that it is a bit easier in the standing leg curl machine, but this machine has of course been specially developed for it.
In the standing leg curl / leg extension machine
Stand upright in the machine. For the leg extension machine, this means that you face the seat with your face. The pad is now on the back of your legs. Adjust it so that it is between your heels and the bottom of your calves. With the 'official' machine, your thighs are pressed against the pad intended for that purpose; with the leg extension machine, your thighs are pressed against the edge of the seat. Now you are going to bring your heel to your buttocks and the trick is to keep your thighs still. You always perform this exercise unilaterally, because you obviously cannot raise both legs at the same time while standing. Make sure you do the movement, both up and down, very controlled.
In a cable station
You need an ankle strap for the implementation in a cable station. Set the mounting hook to the lowest possible position and face the weight for the cable station. Put the ankle strap on your ankle and attach it to the mounting hook. The easiest way is to find support with your hands by holding the cable station. Now bring your heel towards your buttocks, without moving your thigh. In a controlled movement you then bring your foot back to the ground and repeat this until you have done the desired number of reps.
The standing leg curl is a difficult exercise, both in one of the machines and in a cable station, because you must ensure that your thigh does not move when your knees bend. This requires some practice, but once you have mastered this exercise, it is a good hamstring exercise to add to your workout!
Actually, your hamstrings help with every deadlift variant, but there are two variants of the deadlift where the focus is really on your hamstrings (and buttocks). The first is the Romanian deadlift. In this deadlift variant you start with the barbell on the floor. Your feet are shoulder-width under the barbell, with the barbell positioned approximately above the center of your feet. Bend your knees about 20 degrees and with straight arms, grab the barbell on the outside of your legs. In one smooth movement you now come up until you are standing upright. By pushing your hips back, you will now slowly sink back down. Make sure you keep your back straight when both raising and lowering. The barbell stays as close to your body as possible. You lower as low as possible, until the barbell floats slightly above the ground, and from there you go up again. With this exercise you are guaranteed to burn those hammies!
For some variation, you could use the Romanian deadlift instead of with a barbell, also with dumbbells or a kettlebell. And you can also perform this exercise unilaterally!
Stiff leg deadlift
The stiff legged deadlift and the Romanian deadlift are often used interchangeably. At first glance these exercises certainly look alike, but there are still substantial differences. In addition to the hamstrings, the Romanian deadlift mainly activates the gluteal muscles. With the stiff legged deadlift it is, in addition to the hamstrings, the lower back that is mainly addressed.
The starting position is the same as with the Romanian deadlift: your feet are shoulder width apart and the barbell is centered above your foot. Again, you hold the barbell with your arms outstretched on the outside of your legs, but now try to bend your legs even less than with the Romanian deadlift. Where you keep the barbell as close to your body as possible with the Romanian deadlift, keep it a little further away from your body with the stiff legged deadlift. You rise up to an upright position and then slowly lower yourself, keeping your legs as straight as possible. You sink as low as you can without the barbell touching the floor - can you feel those hamstrings burning? - and then comes up again.
This exercise is a tricky one and especially at the beginning you will not be able to sink that deep. However, the more often you do the exercise, the deeper you will be able to go without bending your knees. It is important with this exercise that your back stays straight and that you do not 'lock' your knees. You can also perform this exercise unilaterally and bilaterally and with a barbell, dumbbells or a kettlebell.
With good mornings your hamstrings, glutes and lower back are trained. The easiest way is to perform this exercise in a squatrack. The barbell rests on your shoulders and you can easily lift it off the rack in a squatrack. That is a lot easier than when you have to place the barbell on your shoulders from the ground.
The start of the good morning is similar to that of the squat. Set the squatrack so that the barbell hangs at shoulder height and let yourself slide under it. Grab the barbell next to your shoulders and make sure the barbell rests on your trapezius. Now lift it out of the supports and take two steps back. You place your feet at hip width. You now bend over, without bending your knees too much. You push your buttocks back and make sure your back stays straight. You sink until your back is horizontal and then come up again.
It is important for this exercise that your legs remain stretched as much as possible; this way you stretch your hamstrings as it were. In addition, it is very important that your back stays straight and does not get any bulging or bulging; this can cause nasty injuries. A tip to ensure that you keep your back straight is to keep looking forward during the exercise.
Glute ham raise
The glute ham raise is an exercise that is not very well known. For this exercise you need a special machine that is not available in every gym. If your gym does own this machine, you are lucky! This is a very effective exercise for your hamstrings because you stretch both your hip and your knees. You therefore use both functions of the hamstrings. You can also perform the exercise in a different way, without a machine. The ROM is a bit shorter and the effectiveness is therefore less. We explain both variants.
In the glute-ham raise machine
You put your feet between the appropriate pads and lie on your stomach, as it were. Your knees are just in front of the pad on which your stomach rests. You now bend all the way forward, with your head towards the ground. Then you come up in one controlled movement, until you are on your knees, as it were. As you rise, your head, neck and hips are in line with each other. By applying pressure from your toes and tightening your abdominal muscles you will come up. This exercise is super effective for your hamstrings and also activates your glutes, lower back and abs! You perform this exercise with your body weight, but you can of course make it heavier by holding a disk or dumbbell in front of your chest.
You can also perform the glute ham raise without a machine. You sit on your knees on, for example, a mat and ensure that you can pinch your feet. For example, you can place a barbell with weights behind you, where you can pinch your feet with your ankles. Then tighten your glutes and abs and slowly bend over, with your back straight. At the end of the movement you catch yourself with your hands and push yourself up again.
The glute ham raise is a difficult and strenuous exercise, but it is definitely worth it!
You perform the hip extension on a hyperextension machine. In principle you make the same movement as with the hyperextension, only you focus on your glutes and hamstrings.
You stand in the hyperextension machine as normal and bend over. You bend just a little deeper than horizontal, which means you will feel tension on your hamstrings. Then you come up again to your starting position and hold it for a moment. When you are in the starting position, also tighten your glutes for extra activation. During this exercise, make sure you keep your back straight. The hip extension is a fairly simple, yet effective exercise!
Come on, lay day!
With these exercises you are completely prepared for your next leg day. If you regularly perform these hamstring exercises in combination with exercises for your quads and your calves, you will certainly not leave the gym with spindly legs. We cannot guarantee that you can still leave the gym on foot after your leg day ...
What is your favorite hamstring exercise?
Let us know in a response!